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Rating History

In the Year of the Pig
18 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Emile De Antonio's antiwar masterpiece, IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG, is a rough, gritty documentary. The film itself looks coarse and grainy, perhaps reused stock. But the images are iconic, and haunting. An American lifeguard at a South Vietnamese beach, looking absurdly out of place, rubs sunscreen on his nose. And the title sequence- a loud, disorienting jumble of images and sound. An unforgettable documentary that transcends its genre, but never quite achieves perfection, PIG is worth a watch.

Macbeth (1971)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

As one might expect with Roman Polanski at the helm, MACBETH is a solid film, with lots of directorial flourishes. Polanski's version of the bard's tale is as dark as the dark ages themselves; witches are hideous looking, everyone is dirty, and performances are raging and psychotic. Jon Finch unleashes his inner lunatic as the title character, but what was interesting to me was Polanski's work. He adds little effects and bits of music to suggest a growing madness, and everything is done quite effectively. As far as Shakespeare adaptions go, this is a favorite of mine.

Frozen (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

As a wannabe director someday, I always watch movies with a critical eye. That means that I normally steer clear of the many straight-to-DVD thrillers that Hollywood shakes off its back each year like so many fleas.

But when my brother and I were surfing Netflix Instant looking for something to watch, we knew we had to give this one a watch. Why? Maybe because we both were curious as to how a movie could possibly make getting trapped on a ski lift thrilling. More likely because we both wanted to watch a movie that tried running with this and failing, and then laugh at its atrocity.

Indeed, there was plenty of laughter to be had over the course of the movie. The plot line was stretched as thin as a rubber band about to break, the ski bros and ski chick characters were bland and less than likeable, and the dialogue was every bit as cheesy as you might expect.

It wasn't all bad. I did enjoy thinking up ways I would personally deal with such a situation. But that was a double-edged sword, as I spent just as much time berating the characters when their poorly-hatched plans went awry.

Moreover, I thought about how this movie could have easily -- with the help of a little smarter of a screenplay -- been loads better. The set-up isn't all that bad, after all. The situation is just weird and unexpected enough to actually happen, and contains a surprising amount of dramatic possibilities. But what killed the movie at the get-go was the writing. What was needed in a film that spent so much time constrained to events taking place on one single chairlift was sharp dialogue, the kind that strips away all that day-to-day exterior stuff to reveal the beating heart of a fascinating character inside. What was needed was the kind of action that spirals outwards in consequences, leading to a climax that's been built up to and thus is thoroughly satisfying.

But it was more of a "coulda-shoulda-woulda" kind of movie, which demanded too much patience from the viewer and yet so little intelligence. Nevertheless, I think I learned something from watching it (and writing all this out), so I suppose it was worth watching after all.

Westworld (1973)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

A pioneer both in its use of digital effects (the first ever in a feature film) and the use of an unstoppable arch-menace we would see again in THE TERMINATOR and HALLOWEEN, Michael Crichton's WESTWORLD is an amusement park you might want a season pass to. Err, I mean a DVD you might want to buy. Damn, I need to stop with these metaphors.

Crichton's theme park is a tri-partite complex known officially as Delos, and its billed by everyone and their grandmother as the best amusement park in the world. Why? Because not only do you have carte blanche to unleash your inner hedonist, you can do it in three spiffily recreated pasts: the Roman Era, the Medieval Era, and, of course, Westworld.

These parks were planned and executed with a scholar's attention to detail. You wont find any Byzantine sculpture in the Roman Era, it's no shoddy reproduction. The castles and rolling hills of the Medieval Era are straight out of a movie (well...) and the saloon doors and spitoons of Westworld look as if they were snatched directly out of the lawless 19th Century American frontier.

One of my fantasies, as a cinema buff, is to live in a movie set. Odd, I know. I'd pack up and move, in an instant, if one of the apartments in Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW ever became available for let. Having a keen interest in history as well, I'd kick back in Delos for a week as soon as I could scrape together the cash. Jurassic Park, Schmurassic Park.

Each park is populated, and herein lies the magic, by a colony of self-aware (well, to an extent) human cyborgs. These machines are the stuff of genetic engineers' wet dreams, gadgets that look exactly like the real thing and can act the part. Their only flaws, as revealed by one of our protagonists, are their hands, only rough sketches of the intricacy we find in human appendages. If "killed" or damaged in the line of duty, a black clad group of technicians steal them away to be repaired, and in some cases re-engineered.

But WESTWORLD isn't just a tour of this futuristic fantasyland, it has a narrative to boot.

Our chief protagonist is Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin), a mustached city slicker who's there, presumably, on the invitation of buddy John Blane (James Brolin). Blane's been there before, and has the cool confidence of a man with experience. Martin is slightly unnerved at first by the hyper-realistic world he encounters, and Blane fields his newcomer questions unbegrudgingly. We learn from Blane that guns don't kill, or at least they can't harm guests, and that for that matter nothing can harm guests. Attractive ladies in waiting or brothel girls never resist a paying customer's advances (!), and when shot at cyborg gunslingers fall to the ground dead, with a few satisfying blood splatters for good measure. Martin finds a nemesis to his hero in a nameless gunslinger who is-- I mean, absolutely is-- Yul Brynner. The chief problem a remake faces, out of the starting gate, is making do without him.

But it's a movie after all, and in movies that hold any kind of interest something must go wrong. In WESTWORLD its the uber-realistic man-machines who go awry, namely our nameless gunslinger. First, the Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) notices a spike in cyborg malfunctions. The disturbing trend seems to stem from a problem with the Central System, a nasty glitch that seems to be spreading, like a computer virus, from android to android. Never, as is emphasized, have the technicians seen such a high rate of breakdowns.

It's an inspired premise for a science fiction movie, especially a low-tech one. All is needed is a few actors to act faintly robot-like and a few setpieces that shouldn't be too difficult to find on an average Hollywood backlot. And although WESTWORLD isn't as perfectly realized as its flawlessly recreated pasts, it also isn't as mistake prone as the unnerving androids it immortalizes.

Boy, have we got a vacation for you!

Marie Antoinette
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The directing world, it seems, is almost exclusively beholden to men, so much so that you almost expect to find a few "No Gerls Allowed" signs in some of the darker alleyways of Hollywood. That changed, we are led to believe, when Kathryn Bigelow won the first Best Director statuette, a long overdue "excusez-moi" from an Academy that has had its fair share of high-profile snubs.

This bit of feminism, it should be noted, comes from a guy. Aren't we all tired of what seems to have become the archetypal American film -- all brainless blood and guts, with the emotional subtlety of a ten-ton weight? I am, at least, and therefore I welcome what I hope is a changing of the guard.

When MARIE ANTOINETTE was released, the critics seemed split on how to treat it. Half panned it, generally with brush-offs like "style over substance," and the other half was by no means effusive, either.

Why? Watching the film last night, I was stunned by the scrupulous attention to detail, Kirsten Dunst's performance as the titular character, and above all the breath of fresh air the director, Sofia Coppola, breathed into the events of the past.

I just finished reading WAR AND PEACE, Tolstoy's masterpiece, and in that novel I first discovered how, in the sure hands of a master, one can understand the feelings, motivations, and desires of a people long gone, so that far from merely being people in a textbook, historical figures can be made relevant to modern times.

MARIE ANTOINETTE is similarly in tune with real human emotions, whether contemporary or of the past. Scenes that exemplify this "mot" include Marie's affection for her tiny dog, Mops, and her drawing a heart in the fog of her breath on the window of her carriage.

It seemed a rather quiet film, accentuated by bursts of fantastic music (Coppola's inclusion of The Cure's "Plainsong" under the coronation scene was particularly sublime), and the film seemed to have a quiet emotional intensity, just as Dunst as Antoinette portrayed.

Other actresses and actors were casted superbly, especially Jason Schwartzman of RUSHMORE fame as King Louis XVI. As a drama centered principally in that beehive known as Versailles, hundreds of other actors and actresses are in the film, some of whom we get to meet, others whom only form the gaudy spectacle.

That "spectacle," though, is what was so curiously damnable to critics, and yet carefully watching the film reveals untold layers of themes laying just below the glitzy surface. The figure of Antoinette herself represents the biggest enigma. Is she the cake-touting bigwig the peasants portrayed her as (one of history's most famous misquotes, by the way), or is she a girl whose innocence was tragically shattered by the grinder of court life? The answer, of course, lies somewhere in between, although sympathetic audiences will see past her extravagance, into a soul that tried, and often failed, to seek solace far from the madding crowd.

Sofia Coppola's MARIE ANTOINETTE is one of the most underrated films of modern cinema, a movie that paints a new face on the historical spectacle, and is a film richly versed in the pathos of life.